Writing and Why We Do What We Do (a Seven Layer Dip of Thoughts on Stuff)

Wow, another writer pontificating about writing. Not exactly though. This will be brief, I think. I just finished reading the last “Letters in the Mail” installment I got from the Rumpus (Matthew Specktor this time), and he had a line in there that reminded me of another quote I was thinking of  earlier this morning (this one from someone decidedly NOT a writer, but it’s interesting how these things tend to happen.)

You have a thought, then you notice other people having that similar thought, and you wonder why so many streams of consciousness are flowing in one direction. I suppose that doesn’t count in this case, since he wrote this letter back in mid-February, but it reached me after I returned from Poland. He has some thoughts in there about living in Los Angeles, wanting to leave it, coming back, what drives all of these things, and ALL of these are thoughts I was having while wandering in Warsaw and Krakow.

So much rambling, just to get to this: first, the original quote I was thinking of this morning from Charles “Mask” Lewis, founder of TapouT clothing (yeah, I know. I don’t wear the shirts, don’t like them, but I respect the guy’s vision, his work ethic, and his drive).

“Maybe it might not be me that touches a million people, but maybe I’ll touch that one, that touches a million”

I see so many of my fellow writers  pondering what it means to “be” a writer, to call yourself an author, the difference between an author and a writer (I posit there is none. Writing is the act of putting words to paper. When you’ve finished a work, it’s been authored. You’re both. Congratulations!). Sales platforms, fanbases, that dreaded new word: “platforming”. All of it is important, yeah, but the reason I do it, and the reason I’ve always done it, is to have a shared experience with someone. I create a world, breathe life into its people, pass it along. If you pick it up and you enjoy it, my work is done. (cooler still, the world that springs to life in your head exists somewhere between us, what you see is not what I originally built. It’s like you’ve moved into a house I made and painted the walls and moved the furniture a bit. Which, to get on another sidetrack, is why I love writing plays – you actually get to see the influence of other people’s thoughts on your words, and then there’s STILL another layer of interpretation there when the audience sees the final work. Cue Inception noise).

On to Specktor’s quote:

“The measure of a writer’s success isn’t sales; it’s more along the lines of something biological: you hope to move out and inflame some other person’s imagination with these fragments.”

There are many more great liens in the letter, about how writing encapsulates moments in time (his letter dovetails nicely with a memory that takes place while in LA with his then-fiancee, written from the perspective of having moved away from LA for a while, marrying that girl, and now writing again from LA, his fiancee now an ex-wife).

I’m knee-deep in the first draft of my next novel, having some… interesting discussions in my writer’s group about the feedback process and the author’s agenda.

Which is to say: Writing is for me (the author). The first draft is mine. The story is for me and me alone. It’s fun when it’s working. The second draft is polishing the amber, working out the flaws, shaping it into something salable (like a miniature elephant, perhaps), and then, when it becomes a novel, that last leg, it’s not for me. It’s for you (or him, or her, or them. Hopefully many of Them). It’s out of the nest, pupating and becoming something else (to clumsily mix metaphors and add one last parenthetical).

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t care why someone is a writer (or author, or novelist, or whatever word they use to describe shades of what is essentially the same color). As a fellow mechanic, I might be interested in seeing what you did under the hood. But I’m most interested in the car itself. Let’s see how the thing I built runs when someone else gets behind the wheel.

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